Sep
07
2014

Wasteland

Part of Business as usual + The present moment

I posted an article recently about the number of cars in the world—said to be roughly one billion.

Juxtaposition: here’s another report, claiming that on average, automobiles are parked—that is, serving no transportation purpose—for roughly 95% of their lifespan.

Add to that a consideration for the number of car trips made by one person at a time, the inherent inefficiency of internal combustion engines, the land devoted exclusively to storing automobiles, and the hours an automobile owner must work to pay for their vehicle, and it adds up to an astonishing price.

Have you ever noticed? We often speak of cars being “on the road,” as in “the average age of cars on the road,” or “the number of cars on the road.” At any given time, however, the vast majority of cars are apparently not on the road. Imagine that instead we spoke of our cars “in the driveway” or “in the parking lot.” Hmm… somehow I don’t think it’ll catch on.

parked

Aug
27
2014

Children with guns and armour

Part of The present moment

Aug
24
2014

We are all terraformers now

Part of Apocalypse pending

terraforming

You may be familiar with the concept of the Anthropocene. This is a colloquial term (more formally, we are in the Holocene Epoch) to describe an age of the Earth during which humans are making global changes to the planet’s ecosystems. Succinctly: like it or not, we have begun to terraform Spaceship Earth.

There’s more: read the whole article

In science fiction, terraforming comprises any processes whereby a planet’s geophysical systems are modified to suit humans. (Crashing water comets on Mars comes to mind; see for example Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.)

The Anthropocene is a bit different, because so far, changes seem to be unfolding without intentionality (call it bizarro-world terraforming). We humans do not all agree about where we ought to be going, but it does begin to seem that by our own choices, where we’re going may not be a very nice place:

Some say, humans are on the verge of human extinction (the Easter Island story, writ large). For my part, I doubt this; we are a most inventive and adaptable species. However, I think (as do many others) that our global economy may be on the verge of catastrophe. If it goes (that is, the system that is keeping 7 billion of us alive), perhaps a lot of humans will die: enough that the Anthropocene will end. Remains to be seen.

Some say, we’d better get with the (unavoidable) responsibility of terraforming and become intentional (cut the burning of fossil fuels, for example). Others say, God will sort it out.

It occurs to me: ours may be only the first age of terraforming. Perhaps, like ice ages, the Anthropocene will wax and wane over a long cycle, as the planet’s human population rises and falls. Science fiction, of course, has such a trope already: A Canticle For Leibowitz, Planet Of The Apes.

Aug
20
2014

The global mobility of labour

Part of An interconnected world + Business as usual

I’ve just noticed a story that has been on the edge of my awareness: about temporary foreign workers coming to Canada. Here’s something from last week at the CBC (2014 August 14):

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/temporary-foreign-worker-program-misuse-sanctioned-by-harper-government-union-says-1.2737422

Here’s The Tyee’s in-depth exploration:

http://thetyee.ca/Series/2013/01/08/Canadian-Temporary-Foreign-Workers/

There’s more: read the whole article

The gist of the story, as I read it:

  • Increasingly, Canada is creating opportunities for foreign guest workers to access the country’s labour market. The population of guest workers in Canada is growing.
  • By Canadian standards, some guest workers are treated badly, and paid poorly.
  • Business interests tend to favour letting in (less expensive) foreign labour, because of course in some situations, this can reduce their labour costs.
  • Labour interests say that guest worker programs are exploitive in various ways to domestic and foreign workers: lower wages, and poor working conditions, respectively.
  • The Tyee writes a story about guest worker programs as “an unseen pillar of Canada’s economic policy.”

As a juxtaposition, there’s Thomas Friedman’s 2005 book, The World Is Flat, in which he wrote about an increasingly-globalized 21st century market for labour, and the rise of a global competition for work in which many North American workers would be outbid.

Another juxtaposition: the remarkable shift in recent years from permanent full-time work to part-time, contract and temp work, or as Maclean’s Magazine put it in 2012, The End Of The Job.

All this flattening, pacifying, destabilizing and mobilizing of labour: it serves the (short-sighted) interests of capital. Corporations might say that to compete in a global marketplace, they need access to the cheapest workers, wherever they may be—and perhaps they’d be correct. But these global economic transitions, these shifts in the flow of capital and labour: do they have a steady state, some sort of global balance? I’m thinking, they might, but I can’t foresee it.

Some people are talking about corporate (neo)feudalism (a way to think about what’s now emerging). That makes some sense. I myself am keen on bioregions (I live in Cascadia, after all). I am reminded, and encouraged: the future is unevenly distributed.

Aug
15
2014

1,000,000,000 automobiles and rising

Part of Business as usual

Check out Worldometers, a site that offers “realtime world statistics.” Here’s one part of it that I find a little staggering:

How many cars in the world?
http://www.worldometers.info/cars/

This is the beast on whose back we ride: a global and growing economic machine, one facet of which currently adds 60 million new cars every year to an increasing global fleet of about 1 billion vehicles (and take note: that doesn’t include commercial vehicles, trucks, buses and the like).

If we hope to imagine some serene, green, walkable/sustainable alternative future economy, we must also be ready to explain: what is to become of a billion (mostly oil-powered) automobiles, and the economic machinery that designs, manufactures, sells, fuels, maintains, repairs and eventually disposes of them? What becomes of the people who were engaged in that enterprise?


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